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on July 11, 2005
I last read Dante's "Comedy" in college. I thaught it might be rewarding to read it again, 40 years later. Now everybody finds out what a low-brow I am. "The Comedy" is a collection of nonsense from an age so seeped in religious nonsense that nothing was in excess in the name of God. Considered a "Classic" by generations of Christian zealots. I consider it (brace yourselves) trash.
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on August 20, 2005
I always felt it a crime that I made it through high school and college without reading this. I recently read The Dante Club which re-ignited my interest in finally reading The Divine Comedy. I looked at all the versions out there and decided on this one. I am so glad I did.


There is an introduction on "How to read Dante" which was indispensible for my first time foray.

There is a note from the translator that explains how his translation might differ from others and why.

There is an introduction from a collegue of the translator that puts the Divine Comedy in a historical context.


So easy to read!

Each Canto begins with a synopsis. If all you wanted to know was the plot of the Divine Comedy you could just read all of these half page summaries (but you'd really miss out.)

Then the canto in beautiful verse.

Then copious notes that explain the minute details about whom you meet in the Canto and relevant events in history. The notes are as interesting as the Cantos themselves.

I am so glad I picked this copy up. I have now read and ENJOYED Dante's Divine Comedy. I highly recommend this as a starting point. It is extremely accessible.
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This Everyman edition of Allen Mandelbaum's superb translation of Dante's DIVINE COMEDY is my favorite one-volume edition currently in print in English. There are many very, very good things to say about this translation and edition. First and perhaps foremost, it contains Mandelbaum's remarkable translation of Dante, a translation often noted for being the best compromise between poetic rhythm, beauty, and accuracy. Of recent translations, the only one that I like as much as Mandelbaum's is Pinsky's great translation of the INFERNO, but unfortunately he has not, as has Mandelbaum, gone on to translate the entirety of Dante's masterpiece. Though Pinsky's translation is renowned for following the terza rima rhyme pattern, it actually reads more like a prose translation, primarily because he observes no meter for each line (Dante's original has eleven syllables per line, precisely like Shakespeare's famous line, "To be or not to be, that is the question"). Mandelbaum observes neither meter nor rhyme, but I personally find more of a poetic concentration of language than one finds in Pinsky. Most of all, Mandelbaum's translation is, like Pinsky's, highly readable and extremely dynamic. Until and if Pinsky completes his translation, Mandelbaum is likely to remain my favorite translation of Dante in English (though happily there are a host of very good translations, including those by Huse, Sinclair, and Singleton).

The volume is remarkably attractive, with a lovely dust jacket (not shown in the Amazon book photo), covers wrapped in cloth, non-acidic, nonreflective paper, and a ribbon bookmark. Also, the volume features a large number of Botticelli's illustrations of Dante, which obviously adds immensely to its value and its attractiveness. Also enhancing the volume's value is the marvelous introductory essay by Eugenio Montale and the comprehensive notes by Peter Armour. The only conceivable criticism of this volume is the absence of the Italian original, but that is not to be too regretted since its presence would have required so many additional pages that it would have been an unwieldy and unusable volume. One can get the Mandelbaum translation in either mass market paperback or hardback editions featuring each part with facing Italian.

The final thing to note is that one gets all these features in what is a very reasonably priced volume. I think for most readers of Dante, this is going to be the single volume of choice. Indeed, unless one especially wants the Italian text facing the English, this might be the edition of choice under any circumstances. The one edition that is clearly the supreme edition of Dante in English, that of Charles Singleton published by Princeton, is simply too expensive for all but the most serious readers of Dante. I will merely add that this is probably one of my favorite editions of any classic in my personal library. Obviously, I strongly recommend this version to anyone contemplating either reading or rereading Dante.
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on June 30, 2013
Clive James is a terrific writer and is always discovering lots of obscure writers no one has ever heard of, like this guy Dante. Where the hell did he dig him up? I read this book cover-to-cover and, let's face it, there's hardly a laff in it. You'll get more humor on one page of one of those You May Be A Redneck books than in an entire canto is this one. Maybe I just don't get it.
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VINE VOICEon January 7, 2014
Kirkpatrick's translation of Dante's Italian is mediocre at best with many oddities cropping up in his translation which apparently are efforts to arbitrarily differentiate his work from the many other historic and recent Dante translations offered. E.G. Inferno I, 32 " a leopard light and lively, svelte and quick" menaces Dante (or does it? It sounds like a charming little kitty!). Also Inf XV 110-11 "If you yearn to set your eyes on such-like mangy scabs". None of this odd verbiage appears in Mandelbaum, Ciardi, or Hollander, so it looks like either Kirkpatrick is a geniue with rare insight into the Italian language or (my theory) he is just sprucing things up a bit for the sake of trying to be unique among the masses of Dantean translators.

For the same reason, he also likes to throw Dante's Latin quotes in untranslated (for the effect he says) e.g. Inf I, 111 "from which invidia has set her loose" or I, 64 "to him I screamed my Miserere". Does this really achieve any astistic or pedagogical goal or is it just an attempt to sound different from other translations? I felt unimpressed by these efforts, and in comparison to the many other translations I've read of Dante, I thought Kirkpatrick's over-emphasized variant approach added no additional interpretive meaning or aesthetic beauty.

The original three volume set of Kirkpatrick's version of the Comedy added at least excellent detailed introductions to each canticle along with detailed commentary for each canto, along with briefer line by line notes. This Penguin omnibus has eliminated all of the commentaries, and combined the three once separate introductions together into a patchwork essay that is about a quarter of the length of the combined three introductions from the separate volumes.

One looks to a Dante translation to have a mix of literary merit and / or pedagogical clarity. As mentioned above, I think RK's translation in and of itself does not have much going for it. The original three separate volumes at least had useful commentaries and intro essays, but these are now almost entirely missing leaving only the briefer more pedestrian line by line notes. The remaining notes aren't awful and are better than the one volume Comedy notes in say Nichols' translation or James' attempt at non-annotated Dante, but are nowhere near as good as the Ciardi Commedia one volume set. For most readers, the support "apparatus" to the text is as important as the quality of the translation, so the gutted intros and missing commentaries vitiate whatever merit Kirkpatrick's original volumes had.

As compared to other one volume Comedies, I think Mandelbaum is superior artistically and about as good in terms of notes. Sisson is also better artistically and has excellent notes. Ciardi is an acquired tastes aesthetically (I like him but the "dummy terza rima" he uses does not sit well with all readers) and his notes are the industry standard for single volume clarity and completeness. The Nichols translation is my favorite in terms of literary merit, but the notes are somewhat lacking. For the patient Dante enthusiast who can afford three separate volumes, and who can also take the time to read lengthy though excellent notes, the Hollanders are still the best way to come to understand Dante.

In any case, you see my point, I hope. There are many better options out that, and the truncated exposition and "hey, look at me!!" attempts at translational showmanship of this Kirkpatrick Commedia create a compelling case to seek out one (or more) of the alternatives. This is a tin-eared translation with minimal interpretive support at a high price.
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on April 2, 2013
I've read The Divine Comedy several times, in different translations, but I have always found Paradise a slog. I'm happy to report that Clive James has made even this abstract exploration of light and doctrine (and, I might add, occasionally smug self-righteousness on Dante's part) a fascinating journey. James has chosen an unusual verse form - quatrains, with an abab rhyme scheme - to translate this, but it works well: it moves quickly and smoothly, each line pulling you forward to the next. I'm sure the labor was intensive, but most of the time the word order, the rhythm, the rhymes all fall into place as if they just happened that way. It unfolds naturally. And James has extended the verse in places by filling in some of the oblique references Dante makes. You can read it without having to flip back and forth between notes, which is a good thing, because there aren't any.

There are risks in bringing notes into the verse itself: some references in the poem are ambiguous; which do you pick? James tries to stick close to scholarly consensus, where there is any. For example, the "one who made the great refusal" is identified in the verse as Pope Celestine: if you have to pick one among many, that IS the closest to a scholarly consensus; but purists would argue against closing off other possibilities. If that bothers you, this is not the translation for you. But if you've never read Dante before, I would definitely recommend starting here.

My one complaint is that the quatrains are not separated by a space. I don't know whether this was James's decision or the publisher's. I suppose it was an effort to increase the forward momentum and call less attention to the formal structure. Just a personal preference on my part; in no way does it detract from the readability of the poem.

(In case this review floats around, the way they sometimes do on Amazon, I should clarify that I'm describing the 2013 translation by Clive James.)
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on July 17, 2009
I read an edition of Dante's 'Inferno' that I borrowed from my college's library not long ago and loved the true-to-the-times story and translation. Sadly, the campus' newly remodeled library only carried 'Inferno' & 'Paradiso' so I had to look elsewhere for 'Purgatorio.'

An old roommate of mine had "The Divine Comedy" translated by John Ciardi, which I assumed would suffice in my quest to continue with the series. At first I didn't notice the rhyming, but as I kept reading it became more and more apparent. I didn't remember "Inferno" rhyming, but I turned back anyhow to see if it too had the 1st and 3rd lines rhyme. Sure enough it did.

At the beginning of this collection is a small prologue in which the author, Ciardi, describes how he had taken the words of Dante and changed them in order to make them rhyme in an attempt to better explain Dante. Ridiculous!

What is even worse is that this man, John Ciardi, took it upon himself to alter not only the context and original words of Dante, but felt the need to add his own lines of work into the original for the sake of a rhyme scheme.

The final 5 lines of Canto VI in (Ciardi's) "Purgatorio" read as follows:
"But if your wits and memory are not dead
you yet will see yourself as that sick woman
who cannot rest, though on a feather bed,
but fails as if she fenced with pain and grief.
Ah, Florence, may your cure or course be brief." (p.333)

In the Notes that follow every Canto, the explanation of this final piece is described: "152. that sick woman - Though she lies in luxury (on a feather bed) she can find no relief from what is wrong with her but flails about as if she were fencing with her pain and grief, seeking to overcome it by outmaneuvering it. The last line (155) is not in the original. It is my own addition, forced upon me by the need to rhyme." (p.337)

Again, RIDICULOUS! If you purchase this edition you will be sorely disappointed in it's writing style and failure to be anything close to the original works. If Dante Alighieri wanted to write like Dr. Suess, he would have. This tale of travels through the rings of Hell and Purgatory to get to Paradise would be filled with vibrant colors, watoozles, and who-beasts at every turn.

I only give this 1 star because it has to have a rating to be posted. If I could give it no star to 1/4 of a star, I would have.
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on August 25, 2003
I was introduced to Ciardi's translation of "The Divine Comedy" in an anthology of continental literature I read in college. At that time, after experiencing fragments of Fagles' horrible "verse" translation of Homer's works, I had low expectations for the translations in that anthology.
However, the instant I started reading John Ciardi's verse translation of "The Inferno", my hardened heart once again began to beat with the vibrancy it had when I read poems of Wordsworth or Browning.
John Ciardi, with a poetic talent that seems to be unmatched -- except for what I?ve read of W.S. Merwin's "Paradiso XXXIII," -- creates a poetic flow that feels, tastes, and even smells Italian. A poetic flow that delightfully contrasts Fagles', whose poetic flow is limited by popular styles and even phrases of the 20th century.
Instead of trying to lift Dante to the 20th century, Ciardi gracefully carries us to the early 14th century.
Instead of assuming that Dante is arcane, old fashioned, and in need of John's own poetic help, he believes that the original Italian is fresh, exciting, and poetically graceful.
The translation of Dante would have been diluted if Ciardi were to try and bring the 14th century to us through the modernization of the language, symbolism, and even the geography of Dante's world. (Fagles even geographically modified his "Odyssey" at one point to rename a Greek river the Nile because readers may get 'confused'.)
I?m glad that Ciardi tries to bring us back in time when the universe was cosmically full of life, where even the stars were more than the mere byproducts of abstract forces, chance, that can only be systematically analyzed and dissected.
The medieval worldview is far richer than the purely logical and scientific mindset that?s now common. By bringing Dante to us unfiltered by that mindset, Ciardi helps move us towards the bright and vibrant medieval world.
I strongly recommend John Ciardi's poetic translation of "The Divine Comedy," a lot is missed when reading only "The Inferno." The whole work is amazingly balanced.
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on November 23, 2011
It seems to me that almost all of these reviews are NOT for this specific book. They must be for a different one. Many of these reviews refer to a translation of "The Divine Comedy" by John Ciardi and also refer to the book having many wonderful helpful notes. That certainly is NOT true of the book listed here. This book is translated by Longfellow and has absolutely NO notes (no preface, no introduction, no summary, no footnotes, and not even any information on the back cover). I find this translation very hard to understand and the lack of any explanatory notes makes the story line very hard to follow. Most of these reviews must refer to a different book of "The Divine Comedy."

I know that this is a classic book and the content is outstanding. But I certainly would NOT recommend buying this edition of "The Divine Comedy." I am very disappointed with this book.

So, I highly recommend you reading "The Divine Comedy;" but not this book. Try to find a one with a better translation and many helpful notes.
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on January 9, 2014
READER BEWARE! John Ciardi's translation of the DIVINE COMEDY is my favorite for all the reasons mentioned by other reviewers: poetic, musical, accessible language and good notes. Amazon.com, however, has lumped the reviews of ALL the translations and formats together into ONE section. Make sure you are reading a review for the translation and version you are considering buying!
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